At Optimum, we consider the core pretty much anything that attaches to your pelvis. That is a large plethora of muscles ranging from your Rectus Abdominis (6-pack) to your hamstrings. I quite often see people in commercial gyms performing exercises such as planks, crunches and sit-ups to train the “core”. These are not always the best way to attain the greatest functional benefit from this crucial network of muscles which have the role of stabilising the spine, maintaining posture, improving performance and reducing the risk of injury. I’m not saying these exercises are wrong; they certainly have their place as regressed exercises to develop some global core strength and endurance – however, I think there are better ways that transfer more effectively to everyday life.
Firstly, I want readers to understand that your limbs are an extension of your core. One cannot perform optimally without the other, so why train them individually? I am a firm believer that in the clientele who have been taught local muscle activation techniques (deep core) and are competent at doing so, the core should be trained while the limbs are doing something at the same time. There are limitless ways to do this.
The following are three key ways, with examples of exercises that your core works to stabilise your spine and pelvis.
1. Spine anti-extension
This is any exercise where you try to stop your spine – especially the lumbar region (lower back) from extending (dropping in the shape of a bowl). The plank is a great example of this – however as mentioned above in the case of the plank you are training the core without any limb movement. Try to reach forward one arm at a time and see how much more difficult the plank is. If this is very difficult, imagine what is happening in athletic situations in sport or general physical activity when the arms and legs are moving at the same time! A great way to regress this is to have your knees on the floor whole in the plank position and reach from that position instead.
2. Spine/pelvis anti-rotation
This is any exercise where the goal is to stop to spine and/or pelvis from rotating. A great example is a paloff press.
You stand perpendicular to a resistance band or cable that is roughly chest high. With soft knees, you press the band/cable out in front for X amount of time or breaths and return the weight to your chest. This can be repeated multiple times on both sides. It is important to ensure your feet are around shoulder width apart and your shoulders stay square. As you push the weight forward, it should be far more difficult to maintain your starting posture. You will feel the urge to rotate your spine, but you must fight that urge.
3. Spine anti-lateral flexion
This type of spine stabilisation is any exercise with the goal of preventing your spine from bending to one side. When you can do this comfortably, you add weights in your hands when performing the movement.